This summary is written by Pro Bono Net’s Community Support Associate, Casey Mears.
Panelists: Ilenia Sanchez-Bryson, Chief Information Officer, Legal Services of Greater Miami; Amanda Warner, Director of Pro Bono Programs, Center for Elder Law & Justice; Melissa Woods, Senior Financial Safety Tool Project Coordinator, Center for Elder Law & Justice; Tim Baran, Technology Innovation Manager, Pro Bono Net; Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net
This post is a summary of a session held last fall as part of the 6th Annual New York State Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, convened by the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice in partnership with NYSTech and Cornell Tech. To access the recording, you may visit https://ww2.nycourts.gov/accesstojusticecommission/tc/2020conf.shtml.
Apps for Virtual Legal Services
The following apps are helpful for administering virtual legal services in the time of COVID-19 and beyond. These are tools that are useful for client engagement, providing information to clients, and transitioning your brick and mortar practice to one that is safe for providers and clients while the pandemic persists.
Gruveo is a voice, video and screen sharing service. What makes it ideal for virtual legal services is the ability to set up a permanent link to share with clients. This is helpful to use as a hotline and makes it easy for clients to know where to go when they need to meet. There are no plugins, app instillations, downloads, or logins required. There is also the option to set up a group meeting at a specific time for up to 12 people. The National Network to End Domestic Violence cites Gruveo as a privacy centric solution. Gruveo offers a 20% discount for nonprofit organizations.
One cost effective solution to remote work is a normal telephone. They are accessible and affordable for both organizations and clients. There are limitations, however, such as the inability to share documents, and any cell plan limitations clients may have.
3. Cam Scanner
Cam Scanner is a mobile app where users can scan documents using their phone camera, and share with others. The app also allows users to add their signature to documents,eliminating the need for a printer or scanner. Within this app, users can also compose an email with the documents attached.
Testing your internet speed is a useful way to troubleshoot any internet issues you may be having with clients, or to check their network connection in advance of a video call or virtual meeting.
5. Agency Websites
Nonprofit and legal services agency websites can be a very helpful tool for clients. On your agency’s website, you can provide self help tools, such as forms, how to’s, and explainer videos. You can also share information and resources like webinars, FAQ’s, and glossaries with helpful legal terms.
PostalMethods is a secure, HIPAA compliant mailing service that sends letters from any uploaded or emailed document. They will print, collate, and stamp your letter with a quick turnaround. This is an efficient and safe way to mail documents to clients.
Loom records your screen, voice and video simultaneously. This tool is useful to explain technologies, as well as for providing instructions for completing online forms and documents. The videos created with loom can be password protected, and embedded onto websites.
8. Audio-Video Technology as a Tool for Remote Document Execution (*until such time as Executive Orders expire!)
There are a few executive orders put into place that allow for remote document execution during the pandemic. Executive Order 202.7 authorizes any notarial act that is required under New York state law to be performed utilizing audio-video technology provided that certain conditions are met. Executive Order 202.14 allows audio-video witnessing for execution of Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies. Best practices for these remote services include, having the client show their ID on a video call and taking a screenshot, as well as having the client walk you through each place they are signing the document and holding the document up to the video call as well.
Waitwhile is a virtual waiting list for virtual as well as in person events, such as socially distanced clinics. When an event reaches capacity, clients can join a virtual line. It can also help to manage incoming phone calls and place clients on a waitlist to receive a text update instead of waiting on hold. Clients can get on a waitlist, and get SMS text updates without downloading an app. This app is free, but has additional paid plans.
10. VOIP Phone Systems
VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone systems, such as RingCentral, 8×8, nextiva, and ooma are helpful for virtual legal services and remote work, because they allow you to text and call using your personal phone, while using a work number and keeping your information private. Some services allow you to use fax as email, and these systems make it easy to access your work phone from anywhere.
Texting is another simple but effective way of communicating with clients. It can be helpful to answer quick questions, or if confidentiality and safety issues might make it difficult to have a private phone call. There are also anecdotal reports that texting produces increased engagement.
Online intake and triage systems provide relief to legal aid hotlines, and a safe way to request assistance during Covid-19. Online triage sorts users by issue, eligibility, and urgency, and users can be referred to self help or a legal service provider. Online triage and intake can be a seamless process.
This guide is a collaborative text highlighting nine successful remote legal support programs in several states, including New York. You will find clinic models in areas of family, immigration, expungement of criminal records, and medical-legal partnerships. These remote legal services programs provide simplicity and flexibility, and the guide provides tools, logistics, checklists, and best practices for successful programs.
14. Hello Door/ Hello Lisa
These services serve as a sort of digital receptionist in your physical office space. They offer a video chat feature (which works with Teams and Skype) that provides an opportunity for safe face-to-face interaction with clients when the come into the space. A legal services organization in Miami is using this product to greet people when the come into the office. It is a way to say hello, and offer direction to anyone who enters, while maintaining social distancing.
15. Ring Central
Ring central is a cloud based video and phone conferencing service that provides customers with the ability to host video conferences, phone calls, and text messaging as well as fax, and document/email service integration. The American Bar Association uses this service to host their disaster legal hotline. All public sector and nonprofit organizations who are new customers and impacted by COVID-19 get free access to RingCentral Office. This includes 200 participants per video meeting.
This web based screening tool is used by financial institutions and community organizations to detect financial exploitation of senior citizens and provides them with a legal referral. There is also a self assessment tool, and the program generates know your rights materials and agency resources. This too is especially helpful as banks are often the first line of defense for older people who are experiencing financial fraud.
The Legal Risk Detector tool allows advocates to walk through a virtual interview with clients in order to determine their risk factors for issues such as financial exploitation, medical care, consumer debt, housing, elder abuse, crime victims, etc. At the end of the interview, a risk is automatically assessed and sent directly to a legal service provider for follow up.
Apps for Working Remotely
The following apps are those that are useful in transitioning to a remote workforce. These resources are helpful for those working from home during COVID-19, but can also be applied to make your practice more efficient and technology forward in the future.
Power automate is a program included in Office 365. This service simplifies processes that could be tedious and time consuming, such as registrations for events (once a person registers, Power Automate will organize their information and send them an automated email with all the information they need). The program can also be used internally for check requests and approvals, training logs, and other administrative forms. The program requires very minimal coding skills, and has many existing templates that can be modified to fit your needs.
Basecamp is a collaborative project management tool. There are several tools that you can add to your project space, but the most important ones are the message board and docs & files. This tool is helpful for assigning tasks, keeping in touch with project collaborators and stakeholders, and sends automatic emails to all those involved.
20. Microsoft teams
Microsoft teams is a powerful collaboration tool, especially for a distributed workforce. The chat feature is perfect for internal communications and you can share documents for team projects. One instance of a use for Teams during COVID-19, is you can set up a schedule and manage who is going into the office at various times to limit staff capacity and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
21. Google Workspace
The Google suite has many tools that most people are familiar with, but an underused tool is Google Sites. Sites allows you to easily create a microsite that captures all of the information that you want to share with a team. This could be a portal for a project, or even a mini site with the details for an event. This tool uses the same sharing and permission structure as all other google tools.
Outlook is commonly known as an email server, but there are also some additional features that are helpful for remote work. My Analytics sends you an email update based on your focus and wellbeing time. You are able to set a block of 2 hours where you are focused on tasks, and it will provide you analysis of how well you did. The wellbeing feature will alert you if you are spending more time than you planned at your computer, which is helpful for maintaining work life balance while working from home. The To-Do app feature integrates and helps you plan out your day, and the Find Time feature can help you find available times for meetings with people within your organization.
Krisp is a noise cancelling app for remote work. It allows you to “speak without noise” or “listen without noise,” so if you or a coworker has pets, children, or a neighbor mowing the lawn, it will allow you eliminate that background noise and only hear the speakers on the call. This app supports all communication apps, and offers 120 minutes of free meeting time.
Slack is a communication tool that replicates the social environment of in person work. You can set up a slack channel for “water cooler” or about specific topics or projects within your team. It also allows you to change your status, so if you have to step away from your desk, or are in a meeting you can easily let your coworkers know. There is also a feature that allows you to move quickly from a messaging conversation to a voice, video, or screen share call.
25. 1 Password
1 Password is a useful tool for managing any work or personal passwords you may have. Online security is more important than ever as we move to a more and more online world. This tool operates with a browser extension, so you can click on it when trying to log into any site and you only have to remember one password. You can also create vaults within your team so team members can share passwords to shared tools.